Can Kids Drink Coffee? A Guide For Parents

Most of us would do anything to turn back the clock and be young again.

We miss the care-free attitude, the lack of responsibility… our hairlines.

But for some bizarre reason, it seems like every child ever just wants to be old.

They want to be taken seriously by society, have a voice in a debate and win the respect and admiration of their school peers.

And the things they’ll do to try and get more candles on that birthday cake are vast:

Ear piercings, 18-rated movies, make-up, staying out late, parties, tween romances, alcohol – these are all ways of seemingly gaining maturity, and every parent has different rules about which ones they deem more problematic for their child to be involved with.

But one ‘maturity gainer’ that isn’t talked about as much is coffee drinking.

kids drinking coffee to be older

Nearly every office-working adult on the planet can be seen with a cup in hand while walking to work and the coffee shop is the adult’s most favoured haunt other than the pub.

It’s unsurprising then that so many kids see java as a ‘grown-up’ drink, helping to score them some serious sophistication points.

In rare cases, their sudden obsession with wanting to drink coffee may not even be a claim for status and after a couple of trial sips, they may have just decided they actually like the taste of a cup of joe. (Although all those coffee Revels at the bottom of the packet say otherwise).

With social media now awash with frappucino-sipping Instagram stars and TikTok filled with the latest coffee crazes too, it’s undoubtedly getting to be a more prominent interest among 10 – 13 year olds than it ever was before.

kid in starbucks

Where once you were constantly fighting off demands for an impromptu visit to the golden arches, you’re now met with the bizarre line “Ooh look mummy, a Starbucks, can we go?”

Yes, kids today are a strange bunch.

The dilemma here of course is… should you let them?

Compared to something like beer or smoking, coffee seems like a much lesser evil and it’s natural for parents to wonder whether such caffeinated drinks are really that bad.

We’ve all heard the old wives tales about stunted growth and so on, but how much of it is actually true?

Because if now’s not the right time for them to start drinking coffee, when on earth is?

Kids & Coffee: A Guide For Parents

Caffeine & Children – Why They Don’t Go Together

The first thing we’ll get out of the way is this: caffeine does not stunt your growth.

However, considering coffee is an obsession for children who are trying to act older, it’s unsurprising this has become a commonly told myth, as it’s a great line to scare them off the arabica bean scent.

Because while coffee has been proven to have various health benefits for adults, the caffeine content is still a concern for kids, as its impact on children and teenagers brains is not yet fully understood.

This is because caffeine is a drug which directly impacts the central nervous system and as children’s brains are still developing, there is an opportunity there for caffeine to change or alter this development.

Unfortunately, most studies into caffeine’s effects so far have been on adults and animals and so there is still so much we don’t know about its effect on children, however what has been discovered doesn’t make for great reading.

American research has shown that since the 1980’s caffeine intake has doubled in teenagers, and worryingly, studies have also suggested that children who regularly consume it have double the risk of sleep disturbances.

There’s also fears it can create addictive behaviour, as research on lab rats showed that when caffeine consuming rats were introduced to cocaine, they developed dependencies much faster and at lower doses than those that weren’t given caffeine.

kid in coffee shop

Frighteningly, the stimulant is also found in plenty of other sources, with soft drinks and energy drinks in particular being a more prevalent vice among young children and tweens. Adding coffee to the mix is only going to increase a caffeine intake that is already slowly slipping out of our control. without us even realising.

Although scientific evidence is admittedly short at this moment in time, we would also do well to remember our own terrible relationships with caffeine.

In adults, drinking too many cups of coffee a day can often lead to an ‘overdose’ of the stimulant which can cause issues such as insomnia, stomach cramps, shaking, headaches, difficulty concentrating and increased heart rate. In children, the amount of caffeine needed to feel these negative effects would be much lower.

So now you understand the issues with coffee and caffeine being drunk at an early age, the question is, how should you go about handling it?

Should I Ban My Kids From Caffeine Altogether?

Despite the horror story above, there are still no official UK recommendations for daily caffeine intakes in children, presumably as the severity of its long-term effects are still unquantifiable.

However, there has been advice given from the European Food Standard Agency, who state that ‘daily intakes of caffeine in children up to 3mg/kg of body weight do not raise safety concerns.’

Given that the average 12-13 year old in the UK weighs around 45kg, this would mean their upper daily limit of caffeine intake would be around 150mg of caffeine.

In short, this means at ages of around 11 and over, moderate levels of caffeinated drinks aren’t going to have noticeable side effects in the short term.

banning kids from caffeine

The problem though, is trying to prevent kids from going over a limit that is not actually that high.

For example, one standard cup of coffee (236ml) contains 95mg of caffeine, meaning it probably wouldn’t be wise for tweens or very young teenagers to be drinking more than one cup a day.

Then there’s the added threat of popular soft drinks like Diet Coke, which in a 500ml bottle contains around 53mg of caffeine, and energy drinks, with brands like Monster containing 86mg per can.

This means if you are letting your youngins start on a coffee lifestyle, you need to ensure you’re taking into account the rest of their diet and making sure their love of java is not all too much too soon.

When Can Kids Start Drinking Coffee?

For young children of around 11 and under, all the evidence suggests that coffee isn’t really something that should be a part of their life.

At such a developmental stage, the large quantities of caffeine in the drink just mean it’s not worth the risk.

Ideally, this means you’d want to wait towards the end of adolescence before your kids even touched caffeine, but by the time they approach 14 years old you’re becoming a little powerless to stop them!

However, if you have a 12-13 year old child who is beginning to become interested in drinking coffee, it is probably safe to do so in moderation, ensuring not to go over their one cup caffeine limit in a day and that they have it early in the morning as not to disrupt sleep later.

tweens drinking coffee

To be safe, we also wouldn’t recommend turning this into a daily coffee occurrence.

It’s easy to forget that caffeine is an addictive substance which can pose withdrawal symptoms and so starting your kids on it as early as possible isn’t the greatest of ideas.

Another big problem is making sure your child doesn’t become enamoured with the fashionable coffee chain recipes of today, which are potentially the only reason they’ve become interested in the first place!

These huge 750ml godzilla creations filled with syrups, creams and confectionaries are essentially just a boat load of empty calories and added sugar, meaning a daily trip to the local coffee shop is just a quick ticket to weight and health issues.

The Smarter Way To Start Your Kids On Coffee

Look we get it, you don’t ever want to be the bad guy when it comes to parenting, but sometimes you have to be when your children’s health and wellbeing is at stake.

However, if your child is becoming incredibly difficult and frustrated over not being able to join the adult coffee club, there is a way around it that renders parents confusion and fear around the subject meaningless!

And the solution is a little thing called decaf.

Of course! The answer was staring you in the face this whole time.

Admittedly, this may have slipped your mind due to decaffeinated coffee’s woeful reputation, which is so bad you probably don’t even consider it coffee.

decaf kid drinkers

But while decaf often suffers in flavour due to the unavoidable bi-removal of other, more tasty chemicals than caffeine, it’s a far safer concoction for your child which allows them to still live out their grown up fantasy and save you from tantrums.

Best of all, studies have shown that the positive points of coffee can be felt by both decaf and normal coffee drinkers, as the majority of antioxidant compounds, anti-inflammatories and polyphenols are not removed from the decaffeination process.
Although it’s difficult to remove all traces of caffeine from a decaf concoction, on average there is never much more than 2mg per standard cup.

This means children could potentially reap coffee’s better benefits, without having to experience the negative aspects of caffeine.

Given that research over the years has suggested regular coffee drinking can contribute to a longer life and reduce the risk of heart ailments, getting your kids into decaf coffee early might even be a good idea!

Just bear in mind it’ll probably take a miracle to get any child under 10 to savour that unique coffee flavour.

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